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Romney: A strong economy = marriage values?

By David Usher
web posted January 14, 2008

Last week on the Fox News Channel debates, Mitt Romney again played the traditional Reagan "marriage card".  He said that a strong economy equals strong families.  Unfortunately, this is only half the equation -- the half representing the possibility that strong families could exist. 

Like the rest of the Republican lineup, Romney refuses to work on the other half of the equation – the most important piece that Republicans failed to handle in the 1996 welfare reforms – reducing illegitimacy and improving marriage rates and retention.  Today, much of the largest line item in the federal budget – nearly $700-billion in H.H.S. expenditures – is misused destroying marriage and then trying to clean up the mess. 

It has not worked for forty years.  We know that it will never work because our record expenditures parallel today's miserable social statistics.  Illegitimacy is at record levels, as is "shacking up".  Divorce is down, but only because marriage rates are also down. 

Reagan felt that American families were strong and were the envy of the world.  The rest of the world did not see it that way then, and still heartily disagrees.  In Reagan's day, we had nearly the highest divorce and illegitimacy rates on the planet.  The same holds true today. 

The Republican lineup is basically ignorant – except Mr. Huckabee – who is aware of the problem but to date has offered no conservative change he would seek to improve the problem (nationalized health care, child support, and welfare are strongly anti-marriage welfare-state policies that do not count as solutions).

Earlier this month David Broder correctly pointed out the engine driving Mike Huckabee's meteoric rise:

"Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person's lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has … A conservatism that recognizes stable families as the foundation of economic growth is not hard to imagine. A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending."

Robert Rector also illuminated the policy problem in "Poor Politics" this past August:

"If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation's impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty.  Yet, although work and marriage are reliable ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, the nation's remaining poverty could be reduced."

Recently, Rush Limbaugh also read the tea leaves sinking in a rather cold pot correctly:

"A lot of people might just sit out -- which would give the election to Hillary or Obama, which in turn could do such damage to the country that by 2012, that that will bring about the new Reagan, that the new Reagan's not possible in this scenario.  I don't know about this "new Reagan" business.  But his point is that somebody far more conservative than we have on the roster now would surface in 2012 as opposed to now."

The larger Republican base is just as worked up about these problems as they were in 1992 – but perhaps more serious about it and less patient listening to muffin-mouthed pontifications about the "importance of marriage" lacking any policy change to effect it.  The conservative base does not want national health care.  The base does not want Republicans building a bigger welfare state.  We don't want effusive "change" that does not have any specific policies attached to it.

It now seems that nearly everyone except the lineup of Republican candidates is aware that we not only expect, but demand that our candidates adopt a true "Marriage Values" agenda, one that speaks to what most voters need and want, policies to reform out-of-control social spending so that it predominantly expects and rewards marital responsibility and provides the tools that they need to work through the common marital stress-points and problems that are a normal part of marriage and aging.  I predict that the first Republican who runs on a true "Marriage Values" policy agenda will overwhelmingly win the presidency – if not in 2008 – in 2012 or 2016. ESR

David R. Usher is Senior Policy Analyst for the True Equality Network, and President of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition.






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